Participatory forms in OrganiCity

Peter Lau Torst Nielsen is a PhD student at the Center for Participatory Information Technology at Aarhus University and is involved in OrganiCity. His PhD focuses on participation, cognition and semiotics. Here, he gives a short introduction to how citizen involvement is perceived by OrganiCity.

As a practitioner in the field of ICT and user involvement, I have lots of positive experience with different kinds of user involvement in design processes. In the next couple of years, I have the opportunity to study the very concept of participation in urban participatory and co-creation processes. Here are some of my ideas about what participation might involve.

OrganiCity is rather special compared with other smart city projects because it takes the co-creation and participatory design approach to city making to the next level. It strives to find the fine balance between bottom-up and top-down urban development, between citizens and activists, public and private sectors, and between designers, users and stakeholders in general.

This project is attractive territory for everybody interested in a participatory perspective regarding the massive challenges of ‘city making’. During the next two years, the project will fund 30-35 experiments primarily in London, Santander and Aarhus.

Participatory design is often presented as follows:
1. Participatory design is about inviting people to participate in technological developmental processes concerning their lives.
2. Co-creation puts tools for creativity, design and communication in the hands of everyone and invites collective thinking and actions.
3. There is often a clear motif of politics, emancipation and democracy involved in participatory processes.

Citizen involvement according to OrganiCity
Now, in order to get a closer look at how the project pictures these participatory and collaborative processes, we might run through some examples. The list is suggestive, meant for inspiration and certainly not conclusive.

How can citizens be involved in participatory design according to OrganiCity:

#1 Citizens can participate as providers of infrastructure such as communication and sensing devices. Applications running on Smartphones are a good example. Citizens can provide data based on their everyday life world in a given period of their life.

#2 Citizens can be co-creators of knowledge from urban data streams. A lot of data is already accessible in the three major OrganiCities: London, Santander and Aarhus. There might be unexplored potentials here when different sources of data are combined. Data may consist of facts about something, but it is not necessarily meaningful seen in isolation.

#3 Citizens as co-creators of urban services. For instance, what kinds of urban application do we need in a near future? This calls for fun work on interfaces to the city and between citizens. It may involve mobile phones, or it may be on digital billboards or other media.

#4 Citizens can be engaged with the OrganiCity project as participants in experiments as early adapters. For instance in testing new technology.

#5 Citizens can be actors and activists in the general urban discourse established by OrganiCity. What guides OrganiCity is ultimately the big questions of urban development. What is a good future city, and how can we create it?

All these ways of involving citizens in OrganiCity are also a way of ensuring sustainability. This is a true participatory design point. Involving citizens in technology development is a key in ensuring that the all the OrganiCity activities make sense for citizens. What a project leaves behind when it has been completed really depends on this.

As a researcher in participation, I’m fully committed to the benefits and original ideas of participatory design. The list of five suggestions is currently being discussed and we are continuously expanding and concretizing our ideas. The reader is of course invited to chip in with comments and suggestions in a participatory and collaborative spirit.

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